Monday, April 30, 2007

Who is responsible for Global Warming?

The idea of "carbon offsets" irks me. The idea that creating a market in pollution allowances will have much impact on pollution is a snow job and an escape hatch for industries and consumers who just don't want to do their share. We have had the money to buy oil and burn coal. Now, to repair that, we are going to, (guess what!), yep, buy the oil and the coal and the "credits" invented out of thin air and assigned to someone who pollutes less than we do? In spirit, it appeals to me about as much as the idea that some poor schnook has volunteered to be my carbon whipping boy. Saving the world from overheating is first and foremost a battle to reduce consumption and the fair way to do that would be for every consumer to reduce their consumption.

Its just too simple to do: Less oil burned would be more greenhouse gas reduction. Period. "I can afford not to suffer, I can pay to spare myself any inconvenience." is the simple retort but it is not voiced at an honest volume, not while there are shell games for greenhouse gasses.

The New York Times takes a quick survey of experts on the legitimacy of claimed benefits for the environment and all but calls the whole carbon offsets market a sham. The best quote in the article hits at the heart of why we are stalling: human inertia and the pathetic habit of confusing what you have with what you are.
Michael R. Solomon, the author of “Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being” and a professor at Auburn University, said he was not surprised by the allure of the carbon-offsetting market.
“Consumers are always going to gravitate toward a more parsimonious solution that requires less behavioral change,” he said. “We know that new products or ideas are more likely to be adopted if they don’t require us to alter our routines very much.”
But he said there was danger ahead, “if we become trained to substitute dollars for deeds — kind of an ‘I gave at the office’ prescription for the environment.”
There is not much beside curmudgeonhood that I have in common with Boston Globe Columnist, Alex Beam but when he rails against transferring to others the onus of any task or responsibility we ought to share just because we can afford to, I sympathize. Any solution Milton Friedman would approve of warrants severe scrutiny for its effects on the weakest players in the market, especially when the weakest of those players is actually the weather. The weather will hurt the poorest of us the worst. The people who put the most money in their pocket as a consequence of enabling us all to dirty the skies should not be allowed to buy their way out of the mess using the money we have made...that is potentially a runaway positive feedback of power. Until pollution credits are mandatory and costly enough to be punitive they are a smokescreen for business as usual.

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